Police in Indian-controlled Kashmir arrested the founder and commander of the region's largest rebel group, an official said Wednesday, calling it a major setback for the separatists.
Mohammed Ahsan Dar was arrested in Sumbal, a village about 25 miles (40 kilometers) north of Indian Kashmir's main city Srinagar, said B. Srinivas, a top police officer. He did not say when the arrest was made.
Police say Dar motivated, recruited and trained thousands of militants in the disputed Himalayan region and was the founding chief of Hezb-ul-Mujahedeen, the largest Kashmiri guerrilla group fighting against Indian rule.
"This is a significant arrest, a major setback to (the) militants," Srinivas said.
There was no immediate comment about Dar's arrest from any militant group.
Dar was arrested and charged in 1993 with threats to national security, but was released on parole six years later. Police records show he subsequently crossed over to Pakistani Kashmir where Indian authorities claim Kashmiri separatists are trained.
Srinivas said Dar returned to Indian Kashmir last year and "was coordinating the activities of Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammed and Hezb-ul-Mujahedeen militant groups."
Indian officials recently said militant activity in Indian Kashmir has fallen to its lowest levels since an anti-India militant movement began in 1989.
Police say there are about 850 militants fighting in the region, including members of Lashkar-e-Taiba, the group accused in the string of attacks on Mumbai that killed more than 160 people.
In a video delivered to local news agencies in Srinagar in July 2008, Dar said that as long as he is alive he will "continue to wage jihad against India as my national duty. The Kashmir issue can be solved only through the gun."
Anti-India sentiment runs deep in Kashmir, where most people favor independence from India or a merger with Pakistan. The region is divided between the two countries and both claim it in its entirety.
Militant separatist groups have been fighting since 1989 to end Indian rule. The uprising and a subsequent Indian crackdown have killed about 68,000 people, most of them civilians.